Mastodon The Writing Desk: September 2019

26 September 2019

New Book Launch: Katherine - Tudor Duchess (Book Three of the Brandon Trilogy)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

#1 Amazon US Hot New Release

Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward, as well as being related by marriage to Lady Jane Grey.

When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. After the tragic death of Jane Seymour, and the 
short reign of young Catherine Howard, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England.

When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger - from which there seems no escape.

Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling 
Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

24 September 2019

Book Review ~ Tombland (The Shardlake series) by C. J. Sansom

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Set two years after the death of King Henry VIII, Tombland explores the northern rebellion of 1549.  Our lawyer hero, Matthew Shardlake, has grown white-haired and feels defeated by his nemesis, Sir Richard Rich - until an unexpected investigation for Princess Elizabeth draws him deep into the murky waters of the rebellion.

As with all CJ Sansom's books, even Shardlake seems to forget about the need to solve the murder mystery, as the sub-plots are much more interesting. I particularly like the way the author builds an 'ensemble cast' of richly drawn characters, each representing another facet of their dangerous and complex situation.

I found myself wondering what I would have done in Shardlake's position, as the social injustice is hard to ignore - yet the treatment of the nobility by the rebels is also questionable. Caught up on both sides of the conflict, Shardlake seems doomed whichever way he turns.

It's well worth reading the author's essay at the back of the book about  re-imagining Kett's Rebellion, as I'd been so swept up in the narrative I hadn't realised how faithfully the story follows actual events.

This is a book I would like to have written. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Born in 1952, Christopher John Sansom grew up in Edinburgh, the only child of an English father and a Scottish mother. Educated at Birmingham University, he took a BA degree and a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex, until becoming a full-time writer. He lives in Sussex. Find out more at his website

19 September 2019

Death of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and the mystery of her curious tomb at Spilsby

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, 12th Baroness Willoughby d'Eresby and subject of my new book, Katherine - Tudor Duchess, is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knew all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward, as well as being related by marriage to Lady Jane Grey.

Her mother, Maria de Salinas, was the Spanish lady-in-waiting and companion to Queen Catherine of Aragon, and her father was William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. King Henry VIII granted William and Maria Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire as a wedding present.

Katherine married Charles Brandon (subject of my book Brandon - Tudor Knight), and became Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. Katherine and Charles Brandon were chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves when she arrived in England, and when Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr became the king’s sixth wife, they worked together to promote Protestant reforms.

After Charles Brandon's death Katherine married a member of her household, Richard Bertie, who was her Gentleman Usher and Master of Horse. As leading Protestants, they were forced to flee into exile by Queen Mary I, only returning after Mary's death. 

Portrait of Katherine in later life, on display at Grimsthorpe Castle
Katherine died at Grimsthorpe on the on 19th September 1580 after a long illness aged 61, and is buried with her second husband, Richard, in Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

As part of the research for my book on Katherine I visited Grimsthorpe Castle and saw her chapel, as well as the Tudor rooms where it is likely she spent her last days. I also made the journey to the Lincolnshire town of Spilsby, where Katherine was laid to rest in the Willoughby Chapel of St James Church with her husband Richard.

St James Church, Spilsby

There are a number of mysteries about Katherine's tomb, the most striking of which is that the effigies of Katherine and Richard seem far too small and out of proportion for the space they occupy. Close inspection reveals that they seem to have been cut off at chest height. (My theory is that there was a serious misunderstanding about the size required!)

Katherine, a strict Protestant and averse to unnecessary decoration of churches, is also flanked by three life-sized figures, which are thought to represent a hermit, a Saracen king and the pagan 'green man' of the forest. It's possible these might be derived from old Willoughby motifs, as Grimsthorpe is decorated with a stylised Saracen's head, to mark the family involvement in the crusades. 

As well as concluding my Brandon trilogy, Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and leads to my forthcoming Elizabethan series, with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I.

Tony Riches

17 September 2019

Using Book Brush To Create Videos For Twitter #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

It's getting harder to make posts about books stand out on social media. At one time a cover shot was good enough, but now there are so many Gifs it's easy to be overlooked. If you take a look at the analysis from Twitter, it's clear that short video is the way to go. Twitter claim 2 billion video views a day, which is 66% year-over-year growth in the past 12 months. They also add that 93% of video views happen on mobile. (Twitter internal data, 2019) 

(Source: Twitter 2019)

So how do you make book videos without spending a fortune or being distracted from writing goals? Earlier this year author Marcia Meara (@MarciaMeara) pointed me in the direction of 'Book Brush',  which claims to be the easiest way to create professional social media images for your books. Since then it has become my 'go to' tool for enhancing social media posts. 

A web-based application, Book Brush has been in 'beta' for quite a while - but they keep adding new features and more templates, which is good. It can be a little 'quirky' to use, although once you've found your way around it's much quicker than most of the competition.

I like the 'Instant Mockups', which allow you to use a library of over two-hundred images featuring your book: 

I also like the Video Creator, which can get you a lot of views on Twitter (I set a target of 30,000 followers before Christmas and I'm fairly sure my little videos have helped speed up progress, as I'm there already.

The hardest bit for me is deciding on the text to use with images, so here is author and book marketing specialist Mandi Lynn (@mandilynnwrites) with her top six tips:

The best way to learn is to have a go. Book Brush encourage free evaluation - and I've been happy to pay for the 'plus' options, as it pays for itself in no time through increased awareness of your books.

Tony Riches

16 September 2019

Guest Post by Jennifer Wineberg, Author of Ruskin’s Copper Shadow

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Did Pauline Trevelyan manipulate John Ruskin into leaving the love of his life in 1865? Bonded by their interest in Pre-Raphaelite art, Pauline Trevelyan, the Mistress of Wallington Hall in Northumberland and John Ruskin developed a close friendship. Pauline had taken his side against Euphemia Gray (Effie) when she had divorced him for non-consummation of their marriage. The daughter of a Minister would naturally want to protect Ruskin from further scandal when Isabella Milburn one of her servants, fell pregnant. A Northumbrian Canon is concerned about this illegitimate child, leading him to unravel 
a story of deception and betrayal. 

My fascination with my Northumbrian roots, the Victorian era and the moral dilemmas surrounding John Ruskin all came together in my debut novel. However, due to the complexities of trying to tease out the link between John Ruskin and my illegitimate great grandmother Mabel Milburn I introduced narrative characters to create an historical fiction, narrated by a Northumbrian Canon to help me. 

His concern about an illegitimate child leads him to unravel a story of deception and betrayal in Wallington Hall where my forbears worked as servants under Pauline and Sir Walter Trevelyan. As a metaphor for Ruskin, the Canon’s heightened social awareness plunges him into the Brussels underworld to investigate the White Slave Trade. Like Ruskin he falls in love with a young girl whose spontaneity and natural beauty inspires him, saving him from his mental and physical tribulations.

Who was John Ruskin?

Ruskin was born in 1817 and died in 1900 and was regarded as one of the most prolific writers of the nineteenth century, a tireless social reformer and an ardent sponsor of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite artists Millais and Rosetti. While we celebrate his Bicentennial in 2019 many Ruskin scholars are now recognising that his ideas resonate today. I would like to think that Ruskin’s Copper Shadow will complement this resurgence of interest in the great man.

What first triggered my suspicion that I might be related to John Ruskin?

As a five year old child I remembered my father bundling my mother, two sisters and grandparents into a tiny rented car and setting off into the Northumbrian countryside. All I remember about that day was an old parish pump and a row of cottages surrounding a field. My father told me that his mother had important links to the estate.

Jump forward fifty five years and I am a retired lady with time on her hands, an interest in her family tree and a handful of free credits from a well-known ancestry search programme. The 1871 census placed my great grandmother Mabel Milburn in a cottage on an estate called Wallington Hall owned by the Trevelyans. Their marriage was unusual to say the least. He was a stereotypic Victorian eccentric who believed in phrenology and he chose his wife because of the shape of her head. 

Overnight a penniless nineteen year old vicar’s daughter became one of the richest women in Northumberland. At the time of the wedding Walter was a thirty eight year old vegan teetotaller and they had little in common except for a love of fossils. While he spent his time with an insignificant clerk called David Wooster whose face Pauline could not bear to see at the breakfast table she looked for more interesting company. Upon hearing that a glamorous group of painters which included the famous Rosetti and Millais were in need of sponsorship she welcomed them with both her hospitality and her husband’s money. Then she came into contact with another passionate supporter of this group called John Ruskin.

When I visited Wallington Estate which is currently owned by the National Trust I walked into the Grand Hall to find myself surrounded by huge wall paintings depicting scenes from Northumbrian Folklore. The artist was William Bell Scott who was head of Newcastle School of Art at the time Pauline Trevelyan gave him this commission. The most famous of these paintings is entitled Iron and Coal and depicts Newcastle’s industrial heritage. When I looked more closely at this picture I was astounded by the close similarity between the girl at the base of the picture and my Aunt Mabel. 

It was not just her copper hair and her hazel eyes but the expression on her face which drew me to her. A friendly volunteer at the house informed me that the painting was completed in June 1861 and we thought the girl was about nine years old. Pauline Trevelyan had insisted on using people from the estate as models for the paintings, and I discovered that the only child approximating this age was Isabella Milburn who by the time of the 1871 census was 18 years old. The head of the household where she lived was a shepherd called Nicholas Milburn who lived with his wife and a grandchild aged five years old. Her name was Mabel Milburn. She was my great grandmother.

The 1871 census described Isabella as an unemployed domestic servant. In those days the only reasons for a servant’s dismissal were because of a felony or becoming pregnant. As there was no record of her at the Newcastle Assizes I had to assume that she had lost her job because she had fallen pregnant with Mabel making her my great great grandmother.

Who was the father?

There was a tradition at the time for the father to attribute a middle name to an illegitimate baby as a symbol of connection to the child. Mabel’s middle name was Evelina. The Victorians were obsessed with symbolism and Evelina was a euphemism for illegitimacy amongst the aristocracy of the day, inspired by a story by Fanny Burney which told of an illegitimate girl named Evelina born to a dissolute aristocrat. 

My forebears huddled up in their tied cottage were as a far away as the moon from the upper classes and would have absolutely no idea of the significance of this name, meaning that Mabel’s father must have been an aristocrat. The application of this middle name to his daughter meant that although on marriage a surname would be lost, the middle name of Evelina was preserved. This knowledge combined with the strength of character evident in my female ancestors inspired me to write the book from a female perspective.

What about the birth certificate?

The helpful researcher at Woodhorn Archives in Northumberland said that it was unlikely that an aristocrat would officially recognise a peasant child, but when I found Mabel’s birth certificate I did not expect to find Isabella’s older sister Anne recorded as her mother. At first I was devastated but then something obvious occurred to me. 

Anne was twenty years old when Mabel Evelina Milburn was born in 1864 yet Isabella was only twelve. If Isabella’s name had appeared on the birth register questions would have been asked about the father. Also If Anne had been the mother, according to family tradition she would have taken Mabel with her when she married, yet Mabel was brought up by her grandparents on the Wallington Estate.

Was the birth certificate falsified to hide the fact that young Isabella was the mother?

If it was why would Walter want to illegally distort the birth records?

Who was he trying to protect? 

Pauline supported John throughout his traumatic divorce in 1855 and when his father died in 1864 he wrote to her almost every day in the months immediately after this terrible event. Mabel Evelina was conceived towards the end of that year. There is no doubt that Pauline and Ruskin were close friends.

By the time of Mabel Evelina’s birth Pauline Trevelyan’s ovarian cancer had crippled her to the extent that she was spending most of her time in a wheelchair. We know that on her death bed in 1866 she reached out to John Ruskin with one hand and her husband with the other. A close relationship indeed. 

Her desire for children could not have been expressed more clearly than in her final commission, a sculpture by Thomas Woolner ‘Civilisation.’ It depicts a mother lovingly embracing a small child and was completed in 1868 after her death. The tragedy of her childless state must have embittered her towards Isabella Milburn – my great great grandmother who I believe had fallen pregnant to her confidant John Ruskin.

Was Ruskin persuaded to disassociate himself from his illegitimate child Mabel Evelina?

There is documented evidence of Ruskin’s vulnerability to be manipulated against his own interests. It has been suggested that the Pre–Raphaelites entertained Ruskin largely because they were interested in his financial support. 

He was easily persuaded to lavish monies on projects with little consideration for the value of these investments and was sold Brantwood, his home in Coniston without seeing it. His father’s massive inheritance slipped through his fingers almost as if he was keen to rid himself of it and his well-publicised aversion to babies may have helped Pauline persuade him to extricate himself from the situation with Isabella.

Were important materials destroyed?

Some researchers may question the unusual gap in communications between Ruskin and Pauline at the time of Mabel’s conception and birth. Evidence cited by Raleigh Trevelyan in papers held in the John Rylands Library in Manchester alerted biographers. He claimed that correspondence written in the 1860’s belonging to Pauline was destroyed by Walter after her death. It cannot be discounted that the papers relegated for destruction included evidence of John’s illegitimate child Mabel Evelina Milburn. Ruskin’s advisors also disposed of much of his personal correspondence both before and after his death.

Is the central theme of this story true?

The final clue comes from the story by Fanny Burney about Evelina in which she benefits from a bestowal. Mabel Evelina Milburn pre-deceased her husband but on his death he left a legacy in excess of £3500 which for a blacksmith turned shipsmith was a remarkable amount of money and hints at a preferential bestowal made by Mabel’s father.

Ruskin’s appreciation of art, architecture and poetry along with his admiration for skilled craftsmen who had pride in what they produced has captured our imagination. His pain when he wrote passionately about how capitalism ruthlessly separates man from his moral compass and the terrible impact this had upon the workers sucked into the Industrial Revolution was palpable. 

 I hope if nothing else, this book increases your understanding of this great man and leads you to question whether he was a dysfunctional impotent virgin as many of his biographers claim. Could his dark periods of depression have been ameliorated by having a constant like Isabella in his life? We will never know the truth about John Ruskin and my great great grandmother as the distortion and mass destruction of evidence has drawn a veil over the story. Hopefully, my determination to bring clarity to these events will help you understand why I have written it as a truth.

Jennifer Wineberg

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About the author
Jennifer Wineberg was born in Newcastle on Tyne and her ancestors are rooted in Northumberland and Durham. She was a teacher with degrees in Education and Psychology, a pharmaceutical sales representative and a manager of a boutique style bed and breakfast before she became an author. Jennifer found writing her debut novel about John Ruskin more terrifying than white water rafting on the Zambesi (which she has done) because she felt a responsibility not only to her immediate family, but also to the followers of this great man. To this end she spent seven years on research before penning a word, and being dissatisfied with the first version she re-wrote it twice. Jennifer will shortly be presenting her story to history clubs and other organisations and is grateful for the support she has received from the National Trust at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. She manages to combine writing with sailing around the Solent with her family in her old boat. Her husband Stuart dances with apostrophes and full stops in an attempt to turn her books into readable formats and she has a love hate relationship with the compiler of the Financial Times Crossword. She also supports Newcastle United Football Club.  Her next series of books are about a time traveller called Melissa who challenges the myopic male interpretation of dark periods of history.  Follow Jennifer on  Twitter @JenniferWinebe1 and Facebook

15 September 2019

Guest Post: Entertaining Mr Pepys, by Deborah Swift

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Based on events depicted in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, Entertaining Mr Pepys brings London in the 17th Century to life. It includes the vibrant characters of the day such as the diarist himself and actress Nell Gwynne, and features a dazzling and gripping finale during the Great Fire of London.

Refugees from the Great Fire of London

‘The saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw. Everywhere great fires. Oyle-cellars and brimstone and other things burning’ Samuel Pepys’ Diary 1666

Herded beasts

In The Great Fire of London 70,000 homes were destroyed, leaving the people of London shocked to the core and suddenly with nowhere to go. Their businesses, their familiar landscape; all destroyed. Not only that, but most of their possessions had gone up in smoke too.

Many fled to Moorfields, just north of Moorgate, one of London’s most notorious centres of vice and violence, and the open space which was safest from the fire, though not from thieves and petty criminals. There they camped out ‘under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag, or any necessary utensills, bed or board, who from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well-furnished houses, were now reduced to extreme misery and poverty’. (John Evelyn)

Fearing a near riot, the King despatched the trained bands of militia to Moorfields to try to keep order. Churches, chapels and any other public building still standing was used to house the people and the goods they had rescued from their homes, and as centres for the distribution of food, which was in short supply since the grain-stores, bakeries and brewers had all been burned down.

Many refugees relied on their relatives in other towns or the villages nearby. In Restoration London the countryside was never far away. ‘The most in fields like herded beasts lie down to dews obnoxious on the grassy floor,’ observed Dryden.

The king issued an edict which ordered the surrounding towns to receive any displaced persons and to permit them to trade, and sent word to local justices to make sure refugees were not robbed of the little they had left. For the poor, there was some relish in the way the rich had been brought down to the same level as everyone else; ‘those that delighted themselves in downe beds and silken curteynes are now glad of the shelter of a hedge,’ said Anthony Wood.

Rumour spreads faster than the flames

The rumour that the fire had been a terrorist act by the Dutch was quick to take hold, because England had been waging war against the Dutch over trade routes for years. A savage army of Dutch and French were on their way, the rumour said, now that London was in disorder and ruin. Panic ensued – in fact just the kind of disorder the militia were trying to prevent.

Before long a mob was on the street armed with cudgels, sticks and anything else they could find. Fuelled by rage at the loss of their city they went on the rampage, looking for traitors in their midst. They were wrong of course, there was no Dutch plot, but that didn’t prevent xenophobic attacks on anyone with a foreign accent, and it took more armed troops to subdue the riot.

The following day more militia were drafted in, just in case of further disorder, and the King announced at Moorfields that a temporary Exchange was to be set up in Gresham College in an unaffected north-east part of the city. As he was soothing his subjects, the true scale of devastation was becoming apparent. In fact fires continued to burn in cellars and under debris until March, and there was a constant fear it would spread again. John Evelyn took a walk the Friday after, passing, ‘voragos of subterranean cellars, wells, and dungeons, formerly warehouses, still burning in stench and dark clouds of smoke.’

Hollar’s engraving of the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire gives us a sense of the terrible loss of this formerly thriving city. Eighty-six churches gone, 373 acres of buildings destroyed, and it would take half a century before Londoners could walk in their rebuilt streets without tasting the acrid smell of smoke.

Deborah Swift

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About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory.

Mystery of the 'Lady Jane Grey' Portrait at Grimsthorpe Castle

I recently visited Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire as part of the research for my new book about the amazing life of Lady Katherine Willoughby. As well as seeing the famous portraits of Katherine, her husband Charles Brandon and son Peregrine, I was intrigued by the portrait of an unknown Tudor lady (above).

I was told the portrait has been thought to be of Lady Jane Grey, (related to Katherine as the daughter of her stepdaughter, Lady Frances Grey.)  It is interesting to compare this picture with the fifty-seven portraits associated with Lady Jane Grey in the National Portrait Gallery:

Several of these are confirmed by the the National Portrait Gallery as wrongly attributed, and none show the large and unusual pendant of the Gristhorpe portrait, which seems to depict some sort of classical scene. It was difficult to see due to the reflected light, but the castle's access manager, Ray Biggs, kindly sent me this close up picture:

An expert on Lady Jane Grey told me this  Grimsthorpe portrait was exhibited as Jane in the 19th century. She added that the brooch probably depicts the judgement of Paris, a common theme in the 16th century:

The Judgement of Paris, Hans Rottenhammer, c. 1600
(Wikimedia Commons)
 She added that that the face of the painting has been entirely over painted for some reason - which of course would make identification more difficult without the use of X-Ray. A catalogue of all the paintings at Grimsthorpe castle is being prepared, so please comment below if you have any more theories about the sitter - or her curios pendant.

Tony Riches

(Images copyright Ray Biggs 2019)

13 September 2019

New Book Spotlight: Song of the Centurion (Warrior Druid of Britain Book 2) by Steven A. McKay

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Autumn, AD 430. After the Princess Catia’s disappearance, and Bellicus’s adventures trailing her Saxon abductors south to the fabled Hanging Stones, the giant warrior-druid is finally returning home.

Battle-scarred, and mourning the loss of a loved one, Bellicus has learned from bitter experience that the gods rarely make things easy. Even if he can evade Horsa’s vengeful pursuit and get back to the North safely, his troubles may be far from over…

In a land beset by the rivalries of petty warlords, Dun Breatann has stood solid and secure for untold generations. Trouble brews though as King Coroticus has cracked under the pressure of his daughter’s abduction and, as well as starting a war with the neighbouring kings, he has become jealous, suspicious, and often blind drunk. 

When the king’s rage finally boils over during a winter feast, Bellicus finds himself with two choices – accept exile, or complete another seemingly impossible undertaking.

So much for the returning hero…

Accompanied by his massive war-dog, Cai, and the ever-loyal former centurion, Duro - who has his own painful issues to contend with - Bellicus must somehow survive a journey east into enemy-held lands. 

There, he will need to use his gods-given talents to the full if they are to survive the winter frosts and carry out the mad king’s orders without being captured or killed by the men of Dalriada.

Folklore, superstition, the healing power of song, and even a wondrous white stag will all play a part in the companions’ continuing adventures, but, no matter the outcome of their mission, it will take a miracle to untangle the mess they’ve left behind. Armies are gathering and, when spring returns, the people of Dun Breatann will find themselves under siege once again.

Will their legendary warrior-druid be there to defend them this time, or will the new ways sweep away the old once and for all? 

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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, Wolf's Head, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. Blood of the Wolf is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series. Steven is currently researching and writing a brand new tale - tentatively titled "The Druid" set in post-Roman Britain. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up. Find out more at his website and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay.